Al-Jazeera’s top executive, Wadah Khanfar, resigned Tuesday after eight years as the head of the satellite news channel and was replaced by a member of the Qatari ruling family, the company said.
“For some time I have been discussing my desire to step down with the chairman of the board,” Khanfar wrote on Al-Jazeera’s website. “He has kindly expressed understanding and has accepted my decision.”
“The public probably doubted that Al-Jazeera would fulfil its promise of independent journalism … We managed to pleasantly surprise them by exceeding all expectations,” Khanfar wrote in a two-page farewell to fellow employees.
Khanfar was appointed managing director in 2003 and was later promoted to director general.
He is to be succeeded by Sheikh Ahmad bin Jasem bin Muhammad al-Thani, who has industry experience in France and the United States and holds degrees from Imperial College in London and the Carnegie Mellon Tepper School of Business in the United States.
Khanfar’s resignation came amidst a Wikileaks controversy in which the whistle-blowing website leaked a US government cable that suggests the Al-Jazeera executive agreed to alter the content of the channel’s website after a US request to do so.
The US embassy cable from Doha says Khanfar agreed to “tone down” objectionable content on the station’s website and promised to “remove it over the subsequent two or three days.”
The cable, from last year, was released by Wikileaks on August 30.
An Al Jazeera spokesman said:
“Wadah Khanfar had made outstanding contributions to Al-Jazeera and journalism worldwide,” a company spokesman said. “We all recognise his commitment to courageous reporting and want to continue to build upon those achievements.
“Al-Jazeera has expanded massively in the last few years and there are ambitious plans still ahead. All of the staff at Al-Jazeera will continue to provide high quality journalism to our audiences across the world.”